Pitt's time off will be used on defense


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Pitt students have final exams this week, so the basketball team will get some time off before their next game Saturday against Youngstown State.

Coach Jamie Dixon will take some time to focus on a few areas he believes the Panthers can improve in, specifically defense and rebounding.

After the Panthers' 85-68 win against Loyola Marymount Friday, Dixon said they still are not playing well enough consistently in either area to be the team he would like them to be.

"I thought early on we were not aggressive enough with our hands on defense and they hit some shots," Dixon said. "We did a better job as the game went on and there were some stretches in the second half where we did lock them down and make them take some tough shots, but we have to get better. We have to continue to try to play a complete game.

"We also didn't get a lot of offensive rebounds, but you don't get a lot when you shoot it as well as we did. But we also need to do a much better job on the other end and not give up 16 offensive rebounds."

The Lions outrebounded the Panthers, 37-35, which doesn't happen often. But the bigger issue than total rebounds was those 16 offensive rebounds.

And though Pitt did a good job early of stopping star guard Anthony Ireland, he finished with 20 points and 14 of them came in a flurry at the end of the game.

This on the heels of a 78-69 win against Penn State in which the Panthers were shredded by guards Tim Frazier and D.J. Newbill for a combined 45 points.

Frazier, who scored 27, had 15 in the first half of that game and was a big reason the Panthers trailed at the half for the first -- and only -- time this season.

Dixon said that how the games are officiated is having an impact on the way teams and individuals are able to play defense, especially on the ball.

The hand-checking rules also have made it harder for strong, physical guards to manhandle their opponents and keep them from getting to the basket or moving freely.

That's one reason why the Panthers have used more zone defense this year and why Dixon said after the past three games that he will continue to work on the zone, especially when the Panthers get into foul trouble like they have recently.

But coaching great defense is Dixon's specialty, so the Panthers likely will be able to continue to adjust to with the way the rules are being interpreted.

And that is not good news for Pitt's future opponents, because a big reason the Panthers are 9-0 is the way they have played on offense.

Pitt is averaging 81.7 points per game and shooting 49 percent from the field, 75 percent from the free-throw line.

Dixon said the reason the Panthers have been so good offensively is because they do the same things as many of his past teams.

"We have a lot guys who are unselfish -- we share the ball. We are always among the leaders in the country in assists and offensive efficiency for a reason," Dixon said. "We have a lot of guys who are willing to make the extra pass, to help their teammates and make good decisions with the ball."

Paul Zeise: pzeise@post-gazette.com, 412-263-1720 or Twitter: @paulzeise.

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